Monday, November 29, 2010

Inspiration From Interesting Places

Today's post is a little bit different. Sometimes all it takes is a stop at a soda shop to make one see things in a whole new light. Of course, if that soda shop happens to be Galco's in the Highland Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, you may well get lots more inspiration than you planned for!

A little background... my son has been fascinated with Galco's ever since he found a YouTube video made with its owner, John Nese. The video is a 12 minute exchange and talks about John's fascination with various sodas and his desire to make a one stop shop for every rare soda imaginable (currently, he carries 500 brands). We had a chance to visit Galco's when we went down to spend time with my family in Burbank, CA.

One of the most interesting comments John made, and what he said helped develop Galco's from a standard grocery store into the Soda Pop Supermarket it is today, was when he flatly refused a Pepsi distributor who was offering him a price option to carry Pepsi cola in cans. John decided not to carry it because his customers could get a better deal for those at the Ralph's market down the street. The Pepsi cola distributor gave John a hard time saying "hey, Pepsi is a demand item, and your customers will be put out if you don't carry Pepsi. With a bit of a bickering back and forth over a couple of weeks, John made the point of "thank you for reminding me that this is my store and I own my shelf space,and I will do what I want to so that I can provide the best value to my customers". This was the step that prompted John to buy various rare and small run sodas from a variety of small companies. At first people asked him why he was buying all of these sodas that nobody would buy... but when he got to 250 different brands, people instead started asking "where are you finding them?"

Key takeaway: Don't focus on what everyone else is doing. Instead, focus on what will make you different than the rest. Given time, people will look to that difference and want more.

Galco's has a variety of flavors that would absolutely blow your mind, and admittedly, some flavors are better than others (entirely a subjective view, because one persons favorite or idea of "better" will likely not be another persons). The choices are absolutely overwhelming, but that's where having a "Domain expert" like John come in can be a great help. John says he has no agenda other than offering unique flavors and choices, but based on what you are interested in and/or consider a favorite, he can certainly offer suggestions. When I was talking with him, I mentioned that I was a huge fan of Blenheim #3. For those not familiar, Blenheim is a craft ginger ale made in South Carolina and is not exactly mass marketed. Very few places in the Bay Area carry it, so whenever I run across it, I consider it a rare and wonderful treat. Suffice it to say, Galco's carries Blenheim #3, but John looked at me with a sly grin when I commented that it was the hottest Ginger Ale there is, and he said "oh, I think I can do you one better!" He then showed me "Jamaica's Finest Ginger Beer Hot! Hot! Hot!" (I kid you not, that is the name). John pointed out that this specific Ginger Beer gets its exceptional heat because it is actually made with raw Ginger Oil, instead of ginger extract. Needless to say, there was indeed a little more bite to the Jamaica's Finest as compared to Blenheim #3.

Key takeaway: an expert will help steer you towards what you are really after, if you articulate your goal well and actually listen.

One of the more interesting groups of sodas that Galco's carries is from a Romanian bottler that specializes in "flower sodas". Hang with me here :). Some of you may be familiar with the idea of Rose Water being added to beverages, but this company from Romania specializes in pressing various sodas from roses, elder flowers (Edelweiss), and even cucumber. Who in their right mind would drink a soda made of cucumber?! My thoughts exactly, but after I had a taste of it, I was amazed. IT was light, tasty, and while it definitely gave me a hint of a garden salad in a soda bottle, it was surprisingly good. We bought a bottle to bring home, and after I finished it, I wanted to kick myself for not buying more (John has bought the entire run of this companies flower sodas, so the only place to get these in the states is through John and Galco's. The bottler in question actually couldn't find a store who would give the cucumber soda a chance, but John said "why not" and has been glad that he did.

Key takeaway: be willing to experiment, and try something that on the surface seems crazy. Given a choice, people will gravitate towards the idea if they can try it for themselves.

It was so much fun watching my kids, my wife, and yes, me as well go through the store and just get totally lost in the options available. In addition to my beloved Blenheim #3 and the discovery of Jamaica's Finest, John also introduced me to an amazing soda that he said is probably the rarest one he carries called Ouzon. It's a soda pop that tastes like Ouzo, but without the alcohol. Seriously, this one floored me. It's really light, and has a light flavor of anise that if the main ingredient of Ouzo. It's really hard to describe, but it was something so surprising and, yes, enjoyable, that I will definitely keep my eye out for it (that is, if anyone other than John and Galco's actually carries it).

Key takeaway: It helps to have some rare skills and rare talents up your sleeve. They may not come into play every day, but it's a good bet that when you meet those people that are looking for what you have, they will be delighted that you have it, and will see that talent out again.

Yep, inspiration can come in some fascinating places, even a soda pop shop... but man, *what* a Soda Pop Shop :)!!!


shilpa said...

Great post. Love how you have shared your inspirations with the rest of us. Its a good lesson for any professional.

Marlena said...

Thanks for writing such an enjoyable post.

I've noticed a couple of good ginger beers in the fridge at Atlassian, Bundaberg and Saxby's. Perhaps you've tried them before?

Anyhow, that was fun :)

Michael Larsen said...

Hi Marlena.

Actually, I haven't tried those ones yet, but I'm certainly going to put them on my list now :).